Dear readers: It’s time to service the air conditioning system; this can be an every-other-year procedure at your house. Why? Our cooling season is so short here that our A/C systems aren’t especially overworked. Your furnace, however, is another story. If it goes bad, it can let dangerous fumes into your house, so it needs an annual check, clean and service. Incidentally, some HVAC companies will give you a special price — usually around $100 or so — if they can service both systems in one trip.
Ask them if they’ve taken a look at the cooling coils in a while. This is the upside-down, V-shaped arrangement inside the furnace that does the actual heat transfer to cool down the air stream. Since air conditioning dehumidifies, these coils stay wet and gradually collect a layer of dust on their undersides. This stuff can really diminish the system’s efficiency (and cost you extra cooling dollars). Make sure they don’t take the easy way out and simply squirt a little liquid on it. The best method is to actually slide the coil set out of the furnace for a thorough cleaning and check. That’s the treatment I would want at my house.
Sometimes the outside condensing unit also needs help. The fins can accumulate leaves and other debris — such as cottonwood seeds — on to their outside surfaces. This, too, can lower the efficiency of the cooling system. Also, the edges of the fins can become bent or crushed by hail. Many times, they can be “combed” back into their original shape. Now you know why I encourage you to shroud the condensing unit during the winter with a plastic cover and bungee cord, so it stays unspoiled longer.
Finally, your furnace contractor will check the pressures inside the refrigerant lines, add liquid if needed and change the filter. Incidentally, some unscrupulous HVAC companies are advising folks with older R-22 refrigerant (what we used to call Freon) that this chemical isn’t available anymore, so the unit needs to be ripped out and replaced. Wrong. R-22 is still available — for now anyway — so don’t fall for this trick.
Evaporative coolers — just like regular central air systems — also need a little attention this time of year. Cleaning is the biggest part of this. The evaporation process leaves gobs of caked minerals behind in the water reservoir, around the pad frames, water troughs and on the pump itself. These can all be tackled with white vinegar and water or some CLR. If your cooler is metal — instead of the newer polypropylene plastic models — you may need to patch a rust spot or pinhole here and there with some rubber silicone.
How about the pads? They should be replaced annually. I prefer the ground wood (usually aspen) variety. The spongy, foam-type pads are supposed to be less messy, but they don’t cool as efficiently as wood and they plug up with minerals more readily.
Just as with whole house fans, swamp coolers work most effectively when windows or doors are open in the rooms you want to cool. The air will flow through each room and outdoors, lowering its temperature. Trouble is, that presents a security problem. Open windows and doors — especially when you’re sleeping or not at home — are invitations to miscreants. You can install small louvered vents in the ceiling of each room that needs cooling. The air will then flow from the evaporative cooler through the room and out through the new vent, where it also will lower the temperature in the attic. That means doors and windows can be left closed. You can find these vent systems online or through a heating contractor; one brand is called Up Dux, by Dial Manufacturing.
Dear Ken: Every summer, the family room area of my 55-year-old house reeks of an ammonia-type smell, reminiscent of cat urine. I’ve been told that it might be coming from an old unused inside flower planter or from the juniper bushes. Any thoughts on what it might be? — Susan
Answer: If the planter has been idle for a number of years, it’s probably not the culprit. Our low humidity would have dried out and “cured” any wet boards by now. Evergreen bushes do indeed give off a sort of sour odor, which seems to me to be stronger right now as they pollinate and do their new-growth thing. Perhaps the problem seems worse in summer because that’s when the windows are open and more outside air comes in. So the bushes are my best guess. Maybe they’re candidates for replacement with a more benign species.
Dear Ken: Do you have any suggestions on how to clean my driveway, which was stained by leaves from the recent storm? — John
Answer: Wet down the area, then try some TSP (tri sodium phosphate) or one of the Oxy-Clean grocery store formulations applied with a stiff-bristled broom. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to consider a power washer. You can borrow one at the nearest rental center, but beware: The stream from these systems is so strong, it can actually gouge the concrete surface!
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com